[VIEWPOINT]For progress, stop the scowlingAn opposition congressman launched harsh attacks on U.S. President Abraham Lincoln for being two-faced. The witty Mr. Lincoln responded, “I leave it to my audience. If I had two faces, do you think I would wear this one?” With this joke, Mr. Lincoln was able to evade criticism from the opposition party and the media. After World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was confronted by the Labor Party’s continuous demands to nationalize major industries. When Mr. Churchill met opposition leader Clement Attlee in the men’s room, he intentionally kept his distance. When Mr. Attlee asked why he was avoiding him, the sarcastic Mr. Churchill said, “Every time you see something big, you want to nationalize it.” A cleverly-put, pithy word can really make a difference.
Americans often tell each other not to forget their sense of humor when going to work. There is a saying that a sense of humor is one of the key survival skills. In the middle of the worst-ever blackout, New Yorkers proved that mere electricity cannot define them. The New York Times wrote that the city was calm, unlike the chaos during the blackout in 1977. Most New Yorkers tried to smile, instead of being frustrated and furious, trying to think of the disaster as another chance for a walkathon. Composure, cooperation, and smiles filled the gap from the collapsed system. The Washington Post wrote that the blackout had a good effect: Citizens of New York City learned that they can be happier. What is far more important than electrical energy is the energy of human beings.
But once we start looking into our own society, the first image that comes to our mind is bloodshot eyes. We see rigid faces in the discussions surrounding the five-day workweek plan, disagreements on the Buan radioactive waste storage plant, confrontations between conservatives and liberals on Independence Day, and the feud within the judiciary surrounding supreme court nominations. Hostile expressions are exchanged not only between the ruling and opposition parties, but also between the new and old factions of the Millennium Democratic Party. Amid the confusion, the President has filed lawsuits against an opposition lawmaker and four major newspapers and that has only aggravated the “bloodshot eyes index” of our society, regardless of his intentions. In his Independence Day address, Mr. Roh emphasized national unity more than anything; but if the head of a family is always picking fights, how can he persuade family members to be harmonious?
An acceptable level of discord could be a driving force for social development. But confrontation beyond the critical point will only leave incurable scars on everyone. Instead of being enthusiastic and cooperative, frustrated people will bide their time for revenge.
Let’s stop scowling. An ironic sense of humor can be a more powerful persuader than hostile words. With a smile on our faces, we can put ourselves in others’ shoes, be generous, and tolerate other opinions. On top of a friendly atmosphere, we can pursue grander interests. People should be motivated by common goals, not narrow interests.
And the president should be the leader. Mr. Roh should show a smiling face first, not lose his sense of humor and keep composed and relaxed. Instead of denouncing his critics, the president should try to accommodate them. Mr. Roh identified himself with the leadership style of Guus Hiddink, the former Korean national soccer team coach. Mr. Hiddink’s biggest strength was that he trusted his players, never stopped complimenting them and never lost his sense of humor. After Team Korea’s quarterfinal victory in the World Cup last year, Mr. Hiddink joked, “I am still hungry,” and went on to lead the team into the semifinal round. He didn’t forget to lift Koreans by saying we were the best. We can all learn from him.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Dong-A University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Heong-joon